CHAUDFONTAINE, Belgium (AP) — The water is gone from the streets, but still bedevils musty walls. Most debris has been swept away, but many homes still stand empty. And when rain rattles, many hearts and souls still cringe with fear.
One year later, it is clear that one mighty rush of water through a string of Belgian valley villages has destroyed much more than 39 lives.
In Ardennes towns like Chaudfontaine and Pepinster, life will take years to rebuild what was swept away in hours on July 14, 2021, as a “water bomb” spread misery through much of eastern Belgium and parts of western Germany.
“All that was left was a marble table with iron legs. I guess it was too heavy” for the flash floods to sweep it out of his home, Chaudfontaine resident Alan Mereschal said. His car was found weeks later, six blocks further.
Nearby, on Thursday, King Philippe, Queen Mathilde and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo will visit villages to mark the anniversary. When they are gone again, people will still have to pick up the pieces of their lives.
The Red Cross estimated that 209 of 262 towns of southern Wallonia were affected and 50,000 homes sustained damage.
In Chaudfontaine, a town known well known for its mineral waters, it’s still eerily quiet, factory houses that once lined the idyllic Vesdre river are mostly empty, in all states of disrepair.
Mereschal’s home was almost a complete loss. He considers himself lucky. He has new furniture, a new television and a new sofa.
“Just happy to have a window basically,” he said.
Some people still face depression and find it hard to listen to the rain, which comes down often in the hilly region. Some people had to wait for a night on rooftops to be rescued. Some were swept away in rubber dinghies, thinking they were close to safety.
“I keep a watch on the weather app now,” Mereschal said. “The hardest part for me is that the pub in the village is closed, so I can’t walk down and get a pint and see friends.”
In nearby Trooz, Paul Martin has lost more. The walls in his home showed water marks reaching up nearly to the ceiling. One year later his house stands empty, a “for sale” sign hanging from the second floor.
The town church served as a food collection point and there are two portable toilets outside the door for residents who still don’t have running water. While some are rebuilding what was left of their homes others have decided to pack it in. “For sale” signs line the streets, mostly close to the river line.
Mereschal, though, is here to stay. “Leave here? Never. I’m like a captain. I will go down with the ship.”
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